Civil suit: Job lost because of objections to judge's sexual advances
This story has been modified to add a response from the defense attorney.
SPRINGFIELD — A former court clinician has filed suit against a former Pittsfield drug court judge, claiming that she was removed from her job because she objected to his sexual advances.
Filed on Monday in U.S. District Court, Tammy Cagle's civil suit names Judge Thomas Estes and Behavioral Health Network as defendants. Cagle claims that she was removed from her court clinician position and put into a lower-paying job in retaliation for rejecting Estes.
An attorney for Estes denied that assertion.
In summer 2016, Cagle applied with Behavioral Health Network for the clinician job, and with Estes' approval, she was hired to work in Pittsfield's first drug court, a treatment-based alternative to criminal court. Estes, who also served as first justice of the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown, had been appointed to lead Pittsfield's drug court earlier that summer.
Cagle's suit alleges numerous instances of Estes' sexual misconduct, including in his private chambers, from August 2016 to July 2017.
In August 2016, Cagle said, Estes invited her to his chambers in Belchertown — where he worked four days a week — if she needed anything or needed to "vent." That month, Cagle said, Estes had her meeting privately with him in Belchertown, but no other drug court staff members were ever directed to do the same.
In November 2016, Cagle, Estes and others on the drug court team attended a two-day conference at a hotel. On the first night, after a cocktail hour and dinner where alcohol was consumed, the others left, leaving Estes and Cagle alone. Cagle said Estes seemed intoxicated and began rubbing her arm, telling her she was attractive and "adorable."
She dismissed the remarks, and the two went to their separate rooms.
Sometime later, Cagle texted Estes to ask if he wanted to come to her room for "conversation only." Estes allegedly replied that he was "beat and sleepy," but agreed to come over to help Cagle with an issue working the television in her room.
Estes went to the room, dealt with the television issue and appeared to have fallen asleep. Cagle, watching television at that point, said Estes suddenly stood up, removed his clothes, grabbed her head and made her perform oral sex upon him. Afterward, Estes got up, dressed and went back to his room.
Cagle said she felt "shocked and confused," and left the conference early.
The next day, Cagle said, Estes allegedly contacted her. The two agreed that the previous night's encounter was fueled by alcohol and they agreed not to let it happen again. Estes allegedly told her their working relationship had changed, and it would be worse for Cagle if someone found out and she would lose credibility.
About a week later, Cagle said, Estes asked her to meet him in Belchertown to discuss drug court matters. During the meeting, Cagle said, Estes drew the blinds, locked the door and asked her for oral sex. According to Cagle, Estes said that if she did, he would never ask again and promised to help her with any issues she was having with the Probation Department.
Cagle said she panicked and pushed Estes away, but she claims that he pushed her into a chair and forced her to perform oral sex. Cagle said she felt pressured to comply.
Afterward, Estes offered to walk Cagle out, and dis so, past members of his staff who worked directly outside his chambers, leaving her feeling "degraded and humiliated."
Cagle continued working as a drug court clinician. Estes called her regularly to arrange more private meetings in Belchertown, according to her complaint. The suit alleges about 10 such meetings.
Each time, according to the suit, Estes behaved in the same manner, discussing business before getting up, locking the door, removing his pants and getting her to perform the sex act.
In December 2016, Cagle complained to Estes about the situation between them, and he asked her to come to his home to discuss the matter. As soon as she arrived, Estes immediately made sexual advances, the suit states.
Estes "was even more sexually aggressive toward her than he had been in the past," including grabbing her breast hard enough to leave a bruise, the suit states.
After Cagle said she wanted to end the sexual relationship, the suit states, Estes' attitude toward Cagle changed, and he began acting "coldly" toward her during sessions and in staff meetings. The suit alleges that Estes' attitude toward her was more positive when she obliged his sexual requests.
Also in December 2016, Estes allegedly said he would appreciate "sexy text messages" from Cagle.
In January 2017, Cagle called Estes to tell him she wasn't comfortable with the situation. Estes asked if he could come to her home to discuss the matter, and she agreed.
According to the suit, Estes told Cagle her discomfort was because he had not had the opportunity to reciprocate and persuaded her to allow him to "return the favor." Estes began performing oral sex on Cagle until she made him stop, according to the lawsuit.
Sometime around March 17, 2017, Cagle was informed she was being placed on administrative leave and would not be allowed to return to work at drug court. She said she was told that multiple complaints had been filed against her, but was not provided details.
Via text message, Estes denied knowing anything about Cagle being placed on leave.
Cagle was eventually told the disciplinary action was the result of her decision to have a defendant remain in jail until a spot at a treatment facility was open, rather then release him.
According to the suit, Estes had the final say on decisions of that nature.
Cagle was reassigned to a different position, which paid less money, according to the suit.
Before Cagle was placed on leave, Estes was contacted by the Department of Mental Health about her job performance, and he described her as a "top-notch clinician."
But about two weeks later, Estes allegedly stated that he had received many complaints about her performance and said she had "no people skills."
The sexual encounters with Estes continued until at least July 3, 2017.
In early August, Cagle filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, based on Estes' conduct.
Soon after, Estes was removed from the Pittsfield drug court and from his position in Belchertown and was reassigned to unspecified administrative duties and was no longer hearing cases.
The suit, filed on behalf of Cagle by Boston-based attorneys Leonard H. Kesten and Erica L. Brody claims sexual discrimination, creating a hostile work environment and seeks unspecified damages and a trial by jury.
The attorney representing Estes, David Hoose, said his client denies the allegations and looks forward to defending himself against them.
“The evidence in his defense will show that he had nothing to do with Ms. Cagle’s removal from the drug court, and that she was removed by her employer due to multiple complaints about her ability to work with other people,” Hoose said in a statement. “The evidence will also show that Ms. Cagle initiated and aggressively pursued a sexual relationship with Judge Estes, even after she moved fifteen hundred miles away.”
The case was assigned to Judge Katherine A. Robertson.
Reach Bob Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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